Lemonopoly: An Online Game That Trades In Real-World Lemons

In an attempt to get people more focused on the local produce available to them, this new game pits communities against each other in trying to harvest the most wild fruit.

Lemonopoly: An Online Game That Trades In Real-World Lemons
Galushko Sergey/Shutterstock

California’s Bay Area has a lot of lemons; there are 3,000 lemon trees in San Francisco alone. Many of the lemons go to waste, either because there are too many to handle (take it from someone who knows) or they are too difficult to access. And even though there are plenty of willing lemon consumers, most lemon tree owners don’t take the time to find them.


Lemonopoly, an online game that emerged from San Francisco’s Creative Currency hackathon, aims to ensure that no lemon goes unused–and that the Bay Area’s lemon supply continues to grow. Designed by Code for America fellow Chacha Sikes and software programmer Anselm Hook over the course of a weekend, the game pits different cities in the Bay Area–San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley–in a quest to rack up the most points. Whichever city has the most points at the end of the game (it will run for two months starting this summer) wins bragging rights.

If you have a lemon tree and want to sign up, the game will first ask a series of questions–i.e. the variety of lemons you have, whether your tree produces edible fruit, and whether you would share your lemons with local foragers, marmalade producers, convenience stores, and others. Then your lemon tree ends up on the Lemonopoly map (you can see it here in black and white, but the actual version will be in color). Non-lemon tree owners can also sign up and offer their services, such as fruit-picking and marmalade making.

Each action performed in the game gets a certain amount of points. The exact point mechanism isn’t quite ready, but a public scoring table will be available in the coming weeks. “If I added a tree, that’s a certain amount of points, or I could teach a class for X amount of points,” explains Sikes. “If you did a lemon trade between neighborhoods, that would give you extra bonus points.”

So why would anyone participate in Lemonopoly? There’s civic pride, of course, and also the potential to meet neighbors, gain new lemon recipes, and trade in lemons. San Francisco would need about 12,000 lemon trees to produce the 461 tons of lemons it consumes each year, and it’s not out of the question to think that Lemonopoly’s game mechanics could help the city inch closer to that number. A city that produces all of its own lemons is far from self-sufficient, but it’s a start.

If the initial round of the game is successful, Sikes and Hook may make it an annual project. Other abundant local produce items like plums and figs could also be included in the competition.

“Augmented reality tools [like Lemonopoly] allow you to see what’s possible in the place where your brain sort of breaks and you can’t visualize things,” says Sikes. “We’re showing people an option to have a slightly different economic system based on sharing.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.